Toolkit Helps Principals Navigate the Return to School

By Jacqueline Raphael | August 31, 2020

There are probably no issues more important to a community than the safety and education of its children. This fall, principals bear enormous responsibility for addressing both in a delicate balance as they lead their schools in reopening safely, effectively, and equitably. These pressures may be causing as many as 45 percent of America’s principals to accelerate their plans to retire or leave the profession, according to a survey from the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

But not in Payette, Idaho, where Payette High School principal Jake Williams leads the reopening effort. He is committed to the same team approach he has employed for the last three years to meet students, families, and the community where they are on any important issue. He works to demonstrate the same traits that made for good leadership before the pandemic: patience, persistence, and high levels of communication and shared leadership.

“It’s because we have great district leadership, and because I have an amazing leadership team, that we are able to work through these challenges.”

In Idaho and Montana, school districts make reopening decisions for their schools based on state guidance and with the help of school boards, families, community stakeholders, and local public health departments. Options range from entirely remote learning to near-full-capacity onsite operations. Idaho’s "Back to School Framework" outlines the expectations, support for local governance and decision-making, and guidance and best practices for reopening. Montana’s guidance on reopening delineates safety considerations for four different scenarios. The Region 17 Comprehensive Center worked with the Montana Office of Public Instruction to collect and synthesize feedback from multiple stakeholder groups that was used to develop guidance for schools to safely reopen.

To help principals prioritize and address leadership challenges during this period, the National Comprehensive Center recently produced the “Returning to School – A Toolkit for Principals.” The toolkit is meant to help principals organize their approach to reopening and is replete with tools, tip sheets, and suggestions for action. Topics range from the nuts and bolts of social distancing and cleaning protocols to building the school community by emphasizing what everyone has in common. Organized into four sections—change, communication, collaboration, and care—the toolkit is concisely written and contains links to a plethora of survey templates, documents, websites, and tools that principals can use right away. The positive tone and focus on relationships make the toolkit useful to leadership teams struggling to find innovative solutions to the new normal in which we find ourselves.

No matter what circumstances a community finds itself in, the risks to schools reopening are weighty—and the opinions are plentiful. With this toolkit, school leaders have vetted resources they can use to stay receptive and flexible to best serve the needs of students and families in their community. Thank you, National Comprehensive Center!

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